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Social Sustainability

This social sustainability module provides a framework for how best practices and resources for improving social sustainability can be incorporated within procurements. Social sustainability includes promoting workers’ rights and safe working conditions, preventing human trafficking, and addressing other human rights-related risks. Social sustainability is especially important for contracts with a higher risk for adverse impacts on human rights (risk factors discussed below). This module will be updated as new best practices and tools are identified.

Pre-Award Procurement Best Practices

On procurements that entail sourcing products/services from a foreign country, recommend reviewing the below steps for practices to promote social sustainability.

Step 1: Identify Risk by Sector

Depending on the sector, certain human rights are at higher risk than others. The chart below identifies some specific risks in important sectors for U.S. federal procurement. This chart is intended to be illustrative, not comprehensive or authoritative. Not all risks will apply to all procurements within a sector, and additional risks may apply. This chart is not a substitute for market research specific to your procurement. The abbreviations in the risk columns for each sector refer to external resources which identify potential impacts and how to minimize the risks to that sector. These resources are linked both within and below the main table.

High Risk Sector Trafficking in Persons (Includes Forced Labor)Child Labor Other Labor Issues (discrimination, wages and hours, safety and health) Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining Land Tenure Security Privacy
Agriculture/Food (e.g., cattle, cocoa, coffee, cotton, fish, rice, sugarcane, tobacco, tropical fruit) DOL & VERITE DOL & VERITE DIFI & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5 ICoC
Construction Materials (e.g. bricks) DOL & VERITE DOL & VERITE DIFI & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Construction Services VERITE VERITE ILO & IFC 2 ILO ICoC
Electronics DOL & VERITE DOL & VERITE DIFI & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Extractives (e.g. oil, gas, mining) DOL & VERITE DOL & VERITE ILO & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5 ICoC & VP
Fishing and Aquaculture DOL & VERITE DOL & VERITE ILO & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Forestry DOL & VERITE DOL & VERITE ILO & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Furniture DOL DOL DIFI & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Healthcare VERITE VERITE DIFI & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Hospitality VERITE VERITE ILO & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Housekeeping and Facilities Operations VERITE VERITE ILO & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Internet and Telecommunications GNI
Security Services VERITE VERITE ILO & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5 ICoC
Textiles (carpet, footwear, garments, workwear) DOL & VERITE DOL & VERITE DIFI & IFC 2 ILO IFC 5
Transportation VERITE VERITE ILO ILO IFC 5
DIFI - Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (DIFI), List of High Risk Goods
DOL - US Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs' List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor and Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor
GNI - Global Network Initiative
ICoC - International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers
IFC 2 - International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 2
IFC 5 - International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 5
ILO - International Labor Organization Country Profile provides information on International Labor Standards (such as ratification information, reporting requirements, comments of the ILO's supervisory bodies, etc.) organized by country.
VERITE - U.S. Department of State-funded report by Verité, Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal and Corporate Supply Chains
VP - Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights
Step 2: Identify Risk by Country

Human rights risks vary not only by sector, but by country. When sourcing from a foreign country, the following resources can help you identify country specific risks.

Step 3: Notify Contractors of Risks

If there is a high risk for adverse impacts on human rights, consider using the solicitation to alert contractors to potential human rights impacts related to their supply of goods or services. Also, consider using the solicitation to encourage the contractor to publicly disclose policies and procedures that minimize adverse impacts on human rights. A useful tool that assists companies in developing such disclosures is the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights Reporting Framework. Informing the contractor about these risks and encouraging transparent reporting will help minimize risks to your organization from these practices and let contractors know you are interested in avoiding these impacts.

Step 4: Consider Contract Requirements

Depending on the risks your market research reveals and dollar value and complexity of the procurement, consider requiring contractors to implement one of the following practices. Such requirements should be narrowly tailored to address the specific risks you have identified.

  • Organization publicly discloses the names and locations of the factories, farms, mines, and/or other suppliers from which it and/or its suppliers source.
  • Publicly disclose human rights policies and procedures using the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights Reporting Framework, or other tools (for example, on company’s website).
  • Comply with a code of conduct that includes International Labor Organization core labor standards and domestic law on wages, hours of work and safe working conditions.
  • Notify subcontractors and vendors of human rights risks related to the supply of goods or services, and demonstrate this notification to the contracting officer.
  • Be a member of and/or implement principles in a relevant initiative, guideline, or standard. For a sample list of international principles, guidelines, tools, and global initiatives related to business and human rights, see Social Sustainability Initiatives, Guidelines, and Standards
  • Implement a risk-mitigation plan to prevent human rights abuses.
  • Provide a grievance process and remedies for workers or communities if human rights violations occur.
  • Cooperate with credible auditing or monitoring programs that incorporate feedback from affected workers and communities.
SAMPLE LANGUAGE
  • “This procurement is known to have associated human rights risks relating to X. For additional information about these potential impacts, see Y website/resource."
  • “As a condition of this contract, Contractor is required to publicly disclose relevant human rights policies and procedures on X’s website.”
  • “As a condition of this contract, Contractor is required to publicly disclose the names and locations of the factories used to provide X good”
  • “As a condition of this contract, Contractor is required to implement {insert the relevant initiative, guideline or standard}.” – see Social Sustainability Initiatives, Guidelines, and Standards for a sample
  • “As a condition of this contract, X contractor is required to provide a risk-mitigation plan to minimize adverse impacts on human rights that could be linked to supply of the goods or services.”
For questions on procurements with a high risk for adverse impacts on human rights or labor rights, you may contact: HRProcurement@state.gov.

Post-Award Procurement Best Practices

Validate that the contractor complies with any social sustainability requirements in the contract.

  • Verification Resources: Resources outlined above, along with appropriate geographically or sectorally specific guidance can assist with validating contractor compliance. For a sample list of international principles, guidelines, tools, and global initiatives related to business and human rights, see the Social Sustainability Initiatives, Guidelines, and Standards page.
  • Verification Practices:
    • If the contract requires contractor disclosure or submission of certain documents/items, verify that disclosure or submission is made.
    • If the contract requires membership/certification from a particular organization or compliance with a particular organization’s Code, request confirmation of membership/certification from the contractor.
    • Joining an independent monitoring organization can assist with verifying whether contract requirements are being properly implemented. Two examples are Electronics Watch and Workers Rights Consortium.
    • Take reasonable steps to validate that the contractor complies with other social sustainability contract requirements (for example, Federal Acquisition Regulation Clause 52.222-50, Combating Trafficking in Persons).
  • Remedy Identified Deficiencies:
    • Alert contractor to identified deficiency and follow-up with contactor to ensure deficiency is corrected.
    • Work with similar organizations to identify if deficiency is part of a systemic problem and use combined purchasing power to increase leverage for correcting problem.
    • Encourage transparency about any deficiency and corrective actions taken so similar purchasing organizations and contractors can avoid that deficiency.
  • Sharing Resources with Contractor: Share appropriate resources or tools with the contractor that may assist them with performing social sustainability requirements and developing their organizational policies. Examples include:
Sector Multi-Stakeholder Initiative
Agriculture Fair Food Standards Council
Apparel Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)
Electronics Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition
Extractives (oil, gas, and mining) Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs)

Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)
Internet and Telecommunications Global Network Initiative (GNI)
Security Services International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoCA)
Seafood Marine Stewardship Council
Supply Chain Related Products (e.g., food, electronics, footwear, apparel) Fair Labor Association (FLA)
Textiles GoodWeave
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